Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Quick Overview of the Next Few Expected Federal Announcements Concerning the Canadian Space Industry

          By Chuck Black

Several months back, as outlined in the August 25th, 2017 post, "Space Advisory Board Report: "Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing" Except that Board Members Want to Keep their Jobs," the Federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally got around to issuing its 2017 Space Advisory Board (SAB) report.

Innovation minister Navdeep Bains announcing an open call for two new astronauts at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum on June 17th, 2016. As a result of that announcement,  Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Col. Joshua Kutryk and Dr. Jennifer Sidey became CSA astronauts in June 2017. Here's hoping that the Ministers next announcement regarding the Canadian space industry is made against as photogenic a backdrop and leads to as pleasing a result. Photo c/o Adrian Wyld/ CP.

At the bottom of page eleven of the nineteen page final report, under the title "Key Proposal," the SAB suggested the creation, "in time for the next federal budget (which is expected to be presented to the House of Commons in March 2018), a new space strategy and follow-on space plan that provides the policies, programs and funding essential for the revitalization of Canada's space capacity."

Given the rumours currently flowing though the Ottawa political scene and amongst major aerospace corporations such as San Francisco, CA based Maxar Technologies (the once Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler), Toulouse, France based Airbus Aeronautics (especially in it's hungry, Port Erie, ON based Canadian subsidiary) and throughout Canadian Space Agency (CSA) headquarters in Longueuil, PQ, here are a few areas which likely will need to be addressed soon.

  • To begin with, any satisfying announcement must include a new mission (and funding) for the CSA after the International Space Station (ISS) ceases operation in the middle 2020's. 
The prime CSA job since its creation in 1990 has been to co-ordinate Canadian contributions to ISS operation. This mandate includes astronauts, scientific experiments, and the installation and operation of the various iconic shuttle and ISS remote manipulator systems (or "Canadarms"), which helped to build and support the ISS. 
This function is the CSAs largest current role and an understanding of the expertise required to do it will go a long way towards explaining why the CSA wants to continue building components for other space agencies instead of boldly moving forward with Canadian specific missions. 
Any new CSA role will probably be related to US plans for the Deep Space Gateway, the developing proposal for a crew-tended cis-lunar space station planned by NASA for construction in the 2020s. NASA is looking for partners for the project to defray funding and the CSA seems willing to hop on board.
As outlined in the September 28th, 2017 post, "A New Science Advisor, that "Massive" Science Review, the Deep Space Gateway & the Latest JWST Postponement," the CSA has already issued several small Deep Space Gateway related proposals (and pitched at least one idea for the Gateway to use a solar sail). 
CSA certainly seems to be on-board with the idea, if only because they can continue on doing pretty much what they've always been doing, only for a shiny new space station instead of the old one.
Expect any announcement to be padded out with several tens of millions of new funding for research and development. But don't expect this new funding to be as substantial as the $120Mln CDN provided by the Stephen Harper conservatives for rovers and "next generation Canadarm" research in their 2009 Economic Action Plan. The funded technology was never sold to a space agency or traveled anywhere extraterrestrial. 
But there should be enough money this time around to at least keep the usual suspects at the CSA sullenly acquiescent, especially in Quebec, where aerospace is a major employer and the Trudeau government needs to build bridges in anticipation of the next Federal election.
  • We can also expect at least a few more CSA announcements related to artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives.
AI is one of the tools traditionally used to assess the large data-sets collected by Earth observation (EO) satellites, which has traditionally been a favored area within the CSA. 
As outlined in the October 25th, 2017 More Space News post, "EO Data & Services Market in 2026: $8.5Bln, with Potential to Reach $15Bln," the market continues to grow.
And. at least according to the August 10, 2017 post, "The Canadian Space Agency Will Spend $50,000 So That AI Sales People Can Pitch Them Products," all the best AI products seem to come from Montreal, which is expected to be ground zero for the next Federal election campaign.
Among other things, Montreal is also cashing in big-time on the $125Mln CDN Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, announced as part of the Federal Budget in March 2017.
An overview of the PCW mission still residing on the CSA public website and last updated May 25th, 2012. Graphic c/o CSA.

  • Of course, no sensible aerospace contractor is cheering the addition of a few tens of millions of dollars to the CSA budget. The big fish, including Airbus, Maxar and Ottawa, ON based Telesat are all waiting for either the proposed enhanced satellite communication project (ESCP), or perhaps for something better.
That program, as outlined in the July 17th, 2016 post, "The Polar Communications & Weather Satellite (PCW) Mission is Dead; To Revive it, our Military Wants More Money," derived from the failed CSA led Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) satellite mission, which had been kicking around for a decade and had grown from a useful $600Mln CDN proposal into a far larger $4.5Bln CDN boondoggle.
To make it more affordable, the Department of National Defence (DND) ripped out the civilian weather component of the program, which dropped the cost estimates to $2.4Bln CDN, and then re-branded it as the military and communication focused ESCP.

The new program will be ready by 2023, as opposed to the old program, which was once supposed to be ready by 2016. As quoted in the June 30th, 2016 Space News post, "Canada eyes $2.4 billion Arctic satellite communications constellation," the new project would likely include "at least two satellites in an elliptical orbit," able to cover the arctic, much like the old project.
But now, the ESCP might also be in trouble. 
As outlined in the June 15th, 2017 post, "Telesat Supports Defence Budget But Inuvik Left Out & Teledyne Dalsa Employee Convicted of Selling Satellite Data to China," Telesat has begun suggesting that Canada’s armed forces should act "as an anchor tenant for Telesat’s proposed global constellation of broadband satellites in low Earth orbit. The constellation, for which two prototype satellites are scheduled for launch this year, would appear to fill the requirement of the new Canadian defense policy for all-Arctic (communications) coverage."
Of course, everything up until now (except for maybe the Telesat constellation, which has two satellites ready to go) has been just an unfunded proposal, run up the political flagpole to see if anyone would salute.  
But in June 2017, the Trudeau government promised up to $62Bln CDN worth of new defence contracts, including space-based telecommunications in the Arctic, plus various space based intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and situational awareness initiatives plus perhaps even "a counterspace option."
In order to take electoral advantage of pushing all this new money into the Canadian economy, the Trudeau government needs to begin announcing it, soon. Aerospace companies (and the electorate) are expecting it. 
They seem like such nice people in this photo. Innovation minister Bains (fourth from right) meets with members of the SAB on July 28th, 2017. Photo c/o @MinisterISED

To be fair to the SAB, the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review was the first to argue for the creation of a permanent space advisory board.

Its perhaps unfair to focus too intently on how unseemly the SAB acts when its members focus so much effort on explaining why the board should continue to exist and they should continue to remain on it.

If only the SAB wasn't so curiously quiet when defining the broader priorities needed in order to move the Canadian space industry forward. It's almost as  if they have no idea what could logically be expected to happen next. 

Perhaps, after reading this post, they'll come up with some new ideas.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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